With Chihayafuru currently airing, my love for the work of stalwart director Morio Asaka has been reignited. Chobits was one of the first anime series that I properly watched, and is one of my primary reasons for loving anime as much as I do. But it was a later series that Asaka directed that made me realise just how much I loved the medium, one that helped me discover that anime could be far, far more than just basic entertainment, Gunslinger Girl.
I can’t tell you exactly what it was that made me decide to watch Gunslinger Girl, sure I’d heard it was good, but I didn’t watch many Dramas back then, and from what I’d heard, Gunslinger Girl was all Drama.
Still, I took a chance, buying the entire series, and on my first attempt I made it a whole two episodes in before I gave up on it. A few months later, I’d hit a bit of a drought with my anime watching, this was back when I barely touched my computer for anything beyond schoolwork and basic internet browsing, so I rarely downloaded anything, and with South African internet speeds back then, it wouldn’t have been viable anyway. (This was after it had already been released in English)
So I fired up my DVDs again, and I fucking loved it. There wasn’t a single element of it that I didn’t enjoy. The music was excellent and suited every scene perfectly (and gave me one of my favourite OPs of all time), the acting in both languages was great, the setting was lovely, the animation still remains stellar to this day (the series is famous for its astronomical budget), and though the story was minimal, everything was executed so well, and led to the creation of some of my favourite scenes in all of anime, that I didn’t want there to be more of a plot. I felt that everything was perfect just the way it was.
In all honesty, my biggest complaint with the series (and by extension, the manga) is the name. Yes something as small as the name is my biggest gripe. My reason for this being that while it is indicative of the content of the series, I feel that those who haven’t had any exposure to the series would probably be lead to think that the show was completely different from what it actually is.
Take a good friend of mine, he doesn’t want much out of his entertainment, give him some action or comedy and he’ll be perfectly content with whatever it is he’s watching/playing/reading. See, I was only partially aware of this when I recommended Gunslinger Girl to him. On the name alone he said “Sounds cool, what’s it about?” So I explained the basic premise, and told him it was a Drama. Right away, he looked a bit disappointed, so I then spent the next 15 or so minutes telling him why he should watch it, still unconvinced by me, I handed him the DVDs, to which he said “but the girls aren’t even hot”. Yep. (In all fairness, he had just turned 16, so I give him a bit of a break for this)
You see, the name implies that it’ll be something akin to Burst Angel, a fanservice-laden action series, and many people I’ve told to watch it simply aren’t interested enough to just look past the name. Their loss, they’re missing out on a terrific and very human Drama series.
We aren’t meant to be entertained by the fact that a young girl is shooting up criminals, whereas films like Kick-Ass (which I love) play this for comedy, Gunslinger Girl is completely straight-faced. Witnessing a young child performing such acts should be horrifying more than anything else, especially when you realise that these girls aren’t even in full control of their actions. Their emotions are suppressed through a type of brainwashing, and this has severely shortened their lifespan. All of the girls were in near fatal situations, only to be plucked away from any chance at having a regular life, to live out their few remaining years as nothing but killers. It’s a bit of a heavy-handed approach at times, sure, but it shows us just how terrible their lives have become, and it couldn’t have been executed any better.
Now on to the subject of the second season, it’s wholly unnecessary. Sure it’s decent, if there was no first season, I’d probably have liked it a lot more. The second season is far more plot-focused, which works both in its favour and against it; the plot is excellent, but in giving it a plot it loses a lot of the drama that made the original so great. It also wasn’t animated by Madhouse, and the budget went way down, and it shows; the animation of season 2 was mediocre at best, and the new director handled everything in such a boring manner that the series sufffered heavily for it, and the original series ended in a perfectly serviceable manner, so it kinda makes this season feel rather pointless. It’s not all bad though, the music is still superb, and actually outclasses the first season in certain areas, and like I said, the plot is terrific, so if you simply want to be told a story, you could do far worse.
Honestly, if you’re looking for an excellent drama series and don’t mind a very slow pace, then what you have here is one of the finest dramas I’ve ever witnessed, and that applies to all mediums. I cannot recommend it enough, go watch Gunslinger Girl right now, you won’t be disappointed.